01 Bascule VII -1969 (11:27)
02 Sound Sculpture – a (1:34)
03 Sound Sculpture – b (1:33)
04 Sound Sculpture – c (2:08)
05 Sound Sculpture – d (2:08)
06 Sound Sculpture – e (2:21)
07 Sound Sculpture – f (2:30)
Total time: 23:30
10” mini-LP on Manhood, MAN-002, ca1994/5
The splendor of Switzerland’s vernacular sound art has been repeatedly praised on this blog before (e.g. Herbert Distel & Voice Crack), but it deserves no lesser kudos for the resplendent sound work of artist Jean Tinguely (1925-1991). His work includes hundreds of mechanical sculptures made from discarded materials, often with moving parts led by engines and pulleys. One of his most famous work was the self-destroying sculpture Homage to New York in 1960. In 1979, Tinguely started working on a series of sound sculptures called ‘Méta-harmonies’. The post ‘Audio Arts Cassettes round up’ included a recording excerpt from one of these sculptures. Tinguely presumably wanted to create sculptures bursting with a life of their own as he disregarded most of the sculptures he saw around him as ‘a mockery of the intensity of life’ (in: Calvin Tomkins, The Bride and the Bachelors, Five Masters of the Avant-Garde, New York, Viking Press, 1965). The guy who destroyed sculptures eventually fell in love with the girl who destroyed paintings shooting at them (Niki De Saint Phalle). Interesting couple – they both had rather painful childhoods.
This untitled and mis-indexed record was published by a mysterious Manhood label who apparently published only one other record (by Sleep Chamber). A few typos in the address writen on the cover shows it is probably not from Italy as stated. It might be a bootleg imprint from american RRR noise label since the 1995 Sleep Chamber disc is referenced as RRR-SC [see here]. The Tinguely mini-LP is labelled MAN-002 on the disc. As far as I know, the 1988 piece titled ‘Hegel’ is for string quartet and sickle bows. I assume it doesn’t appear on this disc despite being included in the track listing. Additionaly, the ‘Méta-Malevitch’ series are black painted wooden boxes with geometrical, moving parts painted white or red [see here], exhibited for the first time during the Paris ‘Automates, sculptures et reliefs mécaniques’ exhibition, galerie Arnaud, 1954. I assume they were not able to produce the huge, foundry-like sounds on side B of this disc. Finally, there is a possibility all the tracks on this mini-LP were basically taken from previous Tinguely recordings documenting his work (see list below) and that this record is a mere bootleg with no original material. At this stage, I cannot say. Hence, printed track titles being mostly inaccurate, I coined my own in a rather conservative conjecture.
Anyway, the music on this disc is a collection of awesome noisy sound works establishing Tinguely in the tradition of Luigi Russolo’s noise machines or John Cage’s Imaginary Landscapes. Tinguely’s sculptures rotating parts create awkward rhythm patterns, metallic rattlings and loud percussion sounds, more often than not on the verge of falling apart. Similar sounds can be heard in Jean-Marc Vivenza’s robust take on ‘bruitisme’ or Pierre Bastien’s self-build mecano instruments. The inclusion of an organ automaton and bass sounds on ‘Bascule VII’ is a major improvement on other Tinguely machinery sound sculptures. In this piece, the pace is slow, the recording is lively and surprising, various noises appearing rather haphazardly (chains clinking, drum percussion sounds, engines hum). I assume the slowness was devised on purpose by Tinguely to unsettle the viewer-listener, the slow rhythm conspicuously slower than the human being’s heartbeat, an equivalent of a beast’s heartbeat. ‘Bascule VII’ is a joy to listen to. The B side offers a succession of excerpts from diverse sound sculpture recordings, type varying from rhythm studies a la Pierre Henry to noise assaults a la RRR. The ensemble is fascinating and sounds amazingly on the stereo.
Jean Tinguely’s recorded works:
- 1963 ‘Sounds of Sculpture’, 7”, Minami Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
[Tinguely’s sculptures recorded by avant-garde composer Toshi Ichiyanagi during japanese exhibition]
- 1972 ‘Méta’, book+7″, Propyläen Verlag, Stockholm
- 1983 ‘‘Sculptures at The Tate Gallery, 1982′, Audio Arts cassette
- 1983 ‘Meta-Harmonie H’ incl. in ‘Meridians 2’ compilation cassette, Touch
- 1994/5 ‘Bascule VII’, 10”, Manhood Records 002
- 2001 ‘Relief Meta-Mechanique Sonore I’ incl. in ‘A Diagnosis’ compilation, Revolver-Archiv Für Aktuelle Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
(above: ‘Fata Morgana’, Tinguely, Kunsthal Rotterdam, 2008)
. . . . . . . . . .
Note: I’m creating a new tag on this blog called ‘sound sculpture’. I re-tagged a few previous posts accordingly: Wergo’s Sound Sculptures 2LP, Pierre Bastien and Fire organs as well as the present Tinguely. More to come.